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Polygamy and patriarchy: an intimate look at marriage in Ghana through a human rights lens

L Bowan


This paper examines polygamous customary marriage in Ghana, West Africa, in the context of colonial policy and legislation, which established the current plural legal environment in which Ghanaians negotiate their marriages and the dissolution of marriages. The human rights polemic between universalist advocates of individual rights and cultural relativist advocates of  communitarian rights is activated in order to assess the efficacy of applying human rights principles to provide redress in family law cases. In doing so, the global north-south contention that the human rights movement is merely Western moral imperialism is tested. The paper demonstrates the way in which the more limited protection of rights afforded to women under  customary law has been strengthened by the domestication of human rights treaties in the current constitution and legislation of Ghana, and the explicit application of human rights principles by judges in the judicial process.

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print ISSN: 2343-6530